CAPE TOWN – Growing Africa-China trade by building and managing an innovative and effective Africa-China banking corridor requires an understanding of the pain points that African clients face when accessing China.
Standard Bank estimates that there may be more than 30 000 active Chinese-owned firms in Africa. The majority of these are smaller privately-owned businesses.
Given the number of Chinese firms in Africa, “it is necessary to understand and manage the challenges that Chinese clients face when operating on the continent,” says Adrian Vermooten, Head of Digital for Africa Regions at Standard Bank.
Since the bulk of Chinese businesses operating in Africa are not large, “Chinese business owners generally work in the business where they play vital operational roles,” says Vermooten. Separate Standard Bank research amongst its Chinese clients in Africa also shows that business owners taking time out to manage their banking is a serious impediment to day-to-day operations. “The fact that not all bank personnel speak Chinese is an additional challenge,” he adds.
To address these challenges, Standard Bank has already begun to employ Chinese-speaking customer-facing business banking professionals across its African footprint. The bank is also rolling out permanent Africa-China Banking Centres in key business hubs. The challenge now, however, “is to replicate the physical attributes of our Africa-China banking corridor in the digital space,” says Vermooten. To this end, the bank already offers internet banking, including Business Online, an online banking offering for small businesses. Standard Bank also has a very popular mobile banking app available across the continent.
“A hurdle for our Chinese clients, however, is that our digital offerings across the continent are currently in either English or Portuguese,” says Vermooten.
Building Standard Bank’s first Chinese language internet banking site involved linking over 50 000 Chinese characters to existing programming code. “While this is not terribly different from how we developed our English or Portuguese internet sites, the challenge from a build and design perspective was that Chinese characters have very different shapes. This meant that the way in which layout formats linked up also had to change,” said Vermooten. As such, it wasn’t just a case of substituting words. The structure of the site had to be rebuilt from scratch.
Client experience perspective
Thereafter Standard Bank had to be sure that everything worked from a technical and client experience perspective. Building, testing and announcing the existence of a Chinese internet banking site was a four-step process.
Firstly, Standard Bank needed to be sure that it understood and correctly defined the context in which the English words were used, “so that requests for transaction pins, confirmations, error messages and the like actually ended up meaning the same thing once translated into Chinese,” said Vermooten. Secondly, professional translators were required to translate the English phrases into Chinese - in their correct context. Thereafter it was necessary to test the system with staff and key clients. “We needed to be sure that all the transaction combinations and requests available on the English and Portuguese sites also existed – and worked in the same way – on the Chinese site,” explained Vermooten. Finally, Standard Bank Angola’s team needed to communicate the existence of the site to Chinese clients in the country, including basic training and a demonstration of the site’s advantages. “The socialising of the site was done so well by our Angolan team amongst their Chinese clients that take up has been hugely encouraging,” he added.
Standard Bank chose Angola to pilot the project as the country has a large Chinese business community. Angola is also very digitally active with a high level of online and mobile banking, especially amongst Standard Bank clients. “We also have an extremely pro-active and digitally-able team on the ground in the country,” said Vermooten.
The provision of internet banking is a basic pillar of Standard Bank’s Africa-wide digital strategy. “Important lessons were learned building and socialising our first Chinese internet banking site in Angola. These learnings will be used to roll out Chinese internet banking sites in most of our African markets by the end of 2019,” said Vermooten.
As Africa’s largest bank by assets including a 20% shareholding by the Industrial and Commercial Bank of China, a key focus of Standard Bank’s digital strategy is the client experience, not only within and across Africa for Africans - but also between Africa, China, emerging Asia and the world. “Digitally supporting the functionality, success and growth of our Africa-China trade and investment corridor with innovative digital solutions that drive client growth is a strategic imperative of Standard Bank and a core function of our digital practice in Africa,” said Vermooten.